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Experienced Pennsylvania Criminal Lawyer Explains the Court Process

What you can expect following an arrest in eastern Pennsylvania

In Pennsylvania, the Magisterial District Courts process misdemeanor crimes and decide whether more serious cases should advance to the Court of Common Pleas, where felony cases are heard. In Philadelphia, the case starts in the Philadelphia Municipal Court. The Law Office of David Jay Glassman defends felony charges in the following Pennsylvania courts:

  • Berks County Court of Common Pleas
  • Bucks County Court of Common Pleas
  • Chester County Court of Common Pleas
  • Delaware County Court of Common Pleas
  • Lancaster County Court of Common Pleas
  • Centre County Court of Common Pleas
  • Lehigh County Court of Common Pleas
  • Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas
  • Northampton County Court of Common Pleas
  • Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas
  • York County Court of Common Pleas

Our firm also defends clients accused of misdemeanors in the Magisterial District Courts of these counties. For federal crimes, we appear in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit.

What are the steps a felony case in Pennsylvania takes through the courts?

If you’re arrested for a serious crime in Pennsylvania, you should immediately contact an attorney with experience in felony defense. Here are the steps your case may take through the PA court system:

  • Arrest — Police may make a warrantless arrest based on probable cause.
  • Filing of a criminal complaint — Following a warrantless arrest, the officer files the criminal complaint with the district court. A citizen may also request that the police file a criminal complaint prior to an individual’s arrest.
  • Summons or arrest warrant issued — Depending on the severity of the allegation(s), the district judge will issue a summons requiring the accused to make a court appearance, or an arrest warrant authorizing the police to take the accused into custody.
  • Preliminary arraignment — The district justice provides the accused with a copy of the criminal complaint and advises the accused about his or her legal rights. The judge must provide detained defendants the opportunity to post bail, retain counsel and notify others of the arrest.
  • Preliminary hearing — Within three to 10 days after the preliminary arraignment, the defendant appears before a district judge. Pennsylvania law authorizes the district judge to decide if there is sufficient evidence for a felony case to proceed to the Court of Common Pleas.
  • Information filed — If the district justice forwards the case to the Court of Common Pleas, the District Attorney (DA) must file an information, charging the defendant with a crime. The DA reviews the criminal complaint and may decline to file an information (drop charges), or add to or subtract from existing charges.
  • Formal arraignment — The defendant is formally charged and receives a copy of the information the DA filed.
  • Pretrial status conference — Prosecutors and defense counsel discuss pretrial issues with the judge assigned to the case. Attorneys explore the possibility of a plea agreement.
  • Plea agreement — Most Pennsylvania criminal cases are resolved through a plea agreement, or bargain, where the defendant agrees to a guilty plea (often to lesser charges) in return for sentencing leniency.
  • Trial — Cases that do not reach a plea agreement proceed to trial before a judge or 12-member jury, ending in a verdict of guilty or not guilty. If the judge declares a mistrial, the prosecution has the option to convene a new trial. Defendants who are found not guilty are immediately freed.
  • Sentencing — Defendants found guilty at trial are held over for sentencing. The sentencing judge considers aggravating and mitigating circumstances. The judge has discretion, but certain crimes come with statutory minimum sentences.
  • Appeal — The appeal process allows a defendant to challenge a judge’s rulings on the law and rules of procedure during the defendant’s original trial. If a higher court reverses a judge’s decision, the defendant may have the opportunity for a new trial.

Contact a seasoned trial attorney for criminal defense in eastern Pennsylvania

If you’ve been arrested in Pennsylvania, call the Law Office of David Jay Glassman. We’ve been providing aggressive courtroom defense for more than 35 years. For a consultation, call 215-563-7100 today or contact us online.